The male-female divide in sport

An article in this Tuesday’s Sydney Morning Herald caught my eye very early that same morning – it was a story about Melissa Barbieri, former captain of the Australian national women’s football team, who finds herself without funding after taking a year out to have a child. In order to keep playing in the W-League, and – she hopes – regain a place in the national team, she decided that she had to raise funds and so had planned to auction off some of her precious souvenirs from her time as an international player. The small sum of $5,000 should do it, she reported – and she is not alone in seeking to self-fund, as her teammates are doing all sorts of jobs on the side, including cleaning windows.

This is a difficult subject to discuss. One the one hand, playing football need not be a full-time job, and can allow for other (paid) employment, although clearly at state and national levels any sport requires dedication and time far beyond that of a mere recreational activity, thus limiting the potential for earnings. Moreover, lest we concern ourselves too much with the sentimental impact of selling memorabilia, we must remember that Ms Barbieri has a choice – she too could raise money by cleaning windows if she wanted. And we should also not forget that football is a physical activity. Pregnancy and child-birth will in many cases inhibit the capacity of an individual to be able to perform in sport at the same level as other women. This is a valid consideration when it comes to allocating positions and remuneration.

And yet … something feels very uncomfortable about this story. Perhaps it is because of what is not said in the article – the scale of the salaries paid to professional sportspeople who are men, for instance, and the uphill struggle that women’s sport faces to receive the same amount of media coverage as men’s sport. Despite small triumphs – more tv coverage and sponsorship this season than before – there is still a long, long way to go before we can say that we are as excited about women’s sport in this society as we are about men’s sport. This, of course, is also down to each and every one of us; we have choices and a voice when it comes to expressing preferences for watching sport.

So … the messages we must take away are these: let us be positive about what has happened to improve gender equity in sport over the past few years; let us not be accepting of continuing difference on such a vast scale as exists still; and let us not think that the time has yet come for us to let down our guard – there is work to be done in this world.



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